CHARIS - Contribution to High Asia Runoff from Ice and Snow

USAID logoThis project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).


Richard Armstrong (NSIDC)


  • To determine how much water in the rivers of High Asia comes from seasonal snow melt and how much comes from glacier ice melt

Project Summary

The CHARIS project goal is to improve the understanding of the regional water resources of High Asia. It is generally accepted that a significant component of these water resources originates from the melting of glacier ice and seasonal snow that feed almost every major river system. However, the actual water volume available from these two vastly different sources in the region remains unclear. The amount, timing, and spatial patterns of snow and ice melt play key roles in providing water for downstream irrigation, hydropower generation, and general consumption and their future availability is at risk from both changes in climate and land use practices.

To achieve this CHARIS goal, University of Colorado scientists have established a cross-boundary exercise by working directly with researchers at ten institutions in eight different nations where these ice and snow resources are located (Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan). These countries contain the headwaters of the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Syr Darya, and Amu Darya rivers. This collaboration involves both joint research as well as capacity building, including augmenting field programs, technical training, and graduate education in glaciology. In exchange, CHARIS partners provide essential high-elevation field measurements for calibrating and validating CHARIS snow and ice melt models.  Within the first full year of the project (2013) an unprecedented level of effective cross-boundary collaboration was achieved. CHARIS staff at the University of Colorado has organized and facilitated glaciology and hydrology short courses in Almaty, Kazakhstan (May, 2013) and science conferences and workshops in Kathmandu and Pokkhara, Nepal (November and December, 2013) with full CHARIS partner participation.   CHARIS “hands-on” training for partners to work with DEMs and delineating basins using GIS tools (basin shape file generation), snow cover and glacier mapping and glacio-hydrologic modeling is being provided at course taking place during October 2014 in Dehradun, India.

To accomplish CHARIS project research objectives, a suite of satellite remote sensing, reanalysis, and ground based data are applied to a series of melt models that determine the individual contributions of snow and ice melt to discharge at various elevations. In addition, we evaluate results for selected catchments using innovative isotopic and geochemical tracers to identify and quantify the sources of water (ice melt, snow melt, rainfall, and ground water) flowing into rivers that represent the major hydro-climates of the study area.  Most importantly, we are developing a broad platform of products, such as our DEMs, which can be used by independent researchers to compare and contrast results using uniform information.  Results of the CHARIS study can be applied to future efforts to assess the social-economic impacts of water uses and their vulnerability to changes in flow magnitude and timing.

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